The Castaway Hotel: Book 3

Chapter 34: A Time For Growing Up

Monday came and I took all the boys to the high school. Some wanted to practice and the others either went to watch or play around on the adjoining fields. While they were busy there, I went over to my school to do a little work, in preparation for the first day of classes. I’d be leaving early tomorrow to go visit Nick and his parents, so I had to cram all the things I still needed to do into today Thursday, and Friday. Unfortunately, I got so involved in my work that I was late picking up the boys.

As I drove into the high school parking lot, they were all waiting, but I quickly noted some of them had company. It seemed that Dustin, Pat, Ricky and Jay had met up with a group of cheerleaders and were sitting off in another area, busily flirting and chatting with them. I tooted the horn and they looked in my direction, reluctantly said their good-byes, and then ran over to get in the van with the rest of the group. Once they were strapped in, I took off.

On the ride home, I was preparing myself for another fun night with Kevin, seeing Dustin was one of those flirting, but he was in a remarkably good mood all the way home. When we arrived, Kevin offered to help me fix dinner and I accepted his help. He was very efficient and concentrated on what he was doing, occasionally joking around with me in the process. We continued working until we put the main course in the oven, and then we went about preparing the vegetables and making a salad. When everything was completed, except for having to wait for the meal to cook, I finally asked Kevin what was on my mind.

“You seem to be in a pretty good mood today,” I told him. “I thought you might be upset that Dustin was with the cheerleaders when I arrived.”

“Nah. He and the others were just horsing around with them,” he explained, rather casually. “It wasn’t anything serious, just something to do until you showed up.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re taking such a mature attitude about it,” I informed him, quite pleased.

“I know I can’t stop him from talking to girls,” he admitted, “I just have to hope he still wants to be with me afterward. I plan on making him realize that later on tonight.” He gave me a wicked little grin, just before he carried a few more items into the dining room.

Dinner was very pleasant and after we finished eating, I filled the boys in on what was happening over the next couple of days. “You all know I’m leaving very early tomorrow and I’ll be driving the Grand AM. I’ve decided to use it to get to the airport and then park it in long term parking, so I won’t have to bother Uncle Steve. Aunt Sally has agreed to pick you boys up at 10:00 tomorrow and take you to practice. She’ll bring you back home at 1:00 and she’ll be back to see if you need any help fixing dinner.

“She has also agreed to let you boys run things, unless there’s a problem, and she will be using my room. Please, don’t forget to wear clothes around the house while she’s here. She’s going to let me know how you boys do without her help, so it’s up to you whether or not I leave you on your own the next time I have to go somewhere. It’s good to have her this time, as none of you have your driver’s licenses yet, or else you’d have some long walks back and forth for those two days. I just hope you realize how important she is to this family and how much she’s done or is currently doing for you. I want you all to treat her with the respect she deserves for being so devoted to our family.”

“Don’t worry, Dad,” Ricky answered. “I think we all know what you’re getting at and we’ll be on our best behavior. Won’t we, guys?” The boys all agreed, either verbally or by nodding their heads.

“I knew you would be, I just thought a little reminder wouldn’t hurt,” I added.

“Gee, and I thought you trusted us,” Trey answered, trying to look hurt.

“I do, but sometimes a little reminder is in order,” I replied, even though I knew he was just teasing. “We all forget things at times.”

“Only old fogies do,” Dion said with a grin.

“Are you referring to anyone in particular?” I responded.

“No, he’s just talking in general,” Danny answered for him, trying to bail his brother out, before he said something he shouldn’t. “He just means that younger people usually have better memories.”

“Good, then you’ll be able to remember your curfews and restrictions, so I’ll never have to tell you twice,” I countered, which immediately elicited major groans from all around the table.

“We might forget occasionally,” Brandon said, trying to make a preemptive apology. “He just means we wouldn’t do it as often as an old person.”

“An old person like me?” I asked.

“No! Much older than you, Dad,” Cole answered, looking around at his brothers for approval.

“Yes, much older than you,” Pat added, “although we’ve heard from our teachers that even people over 30 can sometimes have memory problems.”

“And people under 30, too,” I corrected him. “Although most of the time that type of forgetting might be classified as selective hearing or selective remembering. But I don’t supposed any of you would ever be guilty of that.”

The boys all looked around the table at each other before Dustin spoke. “Do you think WE would do that?”

“You tell me. Do you boys do that?” I followed.

There were some panicked expressions on the younger boys’ faces and some slight grins from the older ones. “Maybe once in a while,” Kevin admitted, “but not with anything important.”

“And just who decides if it is important?” I countered.

They all looked at each other, before Trey spoke up. “I guess we all do, sometimes. But we really haven’t done it for anything big, just sometimes with little things, like taking care of our things or doing something when you tell us to.”

“Well, I think those things are important too,” I challenged.

“We always do them,” Danny told me, “just sometimes we wait a little bit first or take longer than we need to. But we wouldn’t do that if you left us in charge.”

“I guess I can live with that ONCE IN A WHILE,” I conceded, “as long as you do those things eventually. That’s why this will be sort of a test to see how you can manage on your own. I told Aunt Sally you’d be taking charge, when I asked her to help out. So, whether or not I decide to trust you in the future will depend on how you do this time. Things have to be done AND done on time. I don’t want the little ones having to wait until 8:00 or 9:00 for dinner and I want all of you getting to bed at a decent hour. It’s time for you boys to start adjusting back to your school schedules and that means going to bed and getting up early.”

“We know and we promise we will,” Dustin answered for all of them.

“Yeah, you can count on us,” Dion added.

“And we’ll listen to them and not fight,” Cole promised.

“Yes, Daddy,” Andrew chimed in, “we’ll listen to the older boys and do what they tell us. Just like we listen to you.”

“Now you’ve gone and scared me,” I responded. The older boys let out nervous little giggles, while the younger boys looked confused. I decided to reassure them. “Okay, as long as you promise me you’ll try your hardest. This will be the trial run to decide how I will handle any future trips away.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Ricky told me. “We won’t let you down.”

After dinner everyone did their own thing, but each came up at various times during the evening, to give me a hug or a kiss, sometimes both, before telling me to be careful, have a safe trip or have a good time. Before they went to bed, I went to my room and double-checked my packing and then hopped into bed to get some sleep. I set the alarm for 4:00 a.m., to make certain I arrived for my flight in plenty of time.

The next morning went by in a blur. I drove to the airport, although I didn’t remember much about making that trip, even as I sat in the airport waiting for my flight. After we took off, I grabbed a nap and felt much better by the time we landed. I had reserved a rental car, so I’d have a vehicle to get around in during my stay. After retrieving my luggage, I walked directly to the rental counter in the terminal, signed the required paperwork and then was given the keys and a map of the local area. I arrived at the Lawrence home just before noon. Mrs. Lawrence answered the door and called her husband immediately. After we all introduced ourselves to each other, they invited me into the living room to sit down and talk.

Nick must have heard the doorbell too, because he soon came bounding down the stairs, all excited. He ran into the living room and directly up to me, giving me a major hug. “Hi, Mr. Currie,” he said timidly, when he remembered his parents were there. They were looking back and forth at each other, trying to determine what that display of affection had been about. I think they were surprised to see their son give such a greeting to a stranger.

“Hi, Nick. How have you been?” I asked.

“Just fine, thanks to you,” he replied. “The O’Haras were very nice to me and put me on the plane to come home. I guess I was relieved to be back and glad to see my Mom and Dad again.”

“Just as it should be,” I commented.

“Nicky,” Mr. Lawrence interrupted, “we’d appreciate it if you left us alone for a while, so we can get to know Mr. Currie and talk things over with him. We have a lot of important issues to discuss, before we decide if we’re going to let you go there to attend school.”

“Why can’t I be in on this too? It is my life,” he whined. “Why can’t I be included while you’re deciding things about me?”

“Because, darling,” his mother began, “there are things we’d prefer to talk about in private.”

“Why? If they are about me, I should know too. Shouldn’t I?” he counted, much to his parents chagrin. “Why can’t I stay and be a part of this?”

“Nick,” I said, looking him directly in the eyes, “would you just give us a few minutes alone, please? That’s all we’ll need. You and I can talk later and you can fill me in about what you did while you stayed with the O’Haras.”

Nick started to object again, but I gave him one of my ‘not now’ looks. Fortunately, he took the hint. “All right,” he said, giving in, but not without a hint of displeasure. “I’ll go up and wait in my room. Will you call me when I can come back down?”

“Certainly, and thank you, dear,” his mother told him. “We won’t be long.” Nick left and stomped up the stairs, just another reminder he wasn’t entirely happy about being left out.

“You do have a way with children,” Mr. Lawrence said to me. “I expected another ten or fifteen minutes of arguments from him.”

“Being a principal and having a lot of boys of my own, I’ve had some practice dealing with situations like that,” I explained and they both simply nodded in response.

We spent nearly an hour talking. First, they asked me about my family and I explained our situation briefly, from the time my own children were little until the present. Then they asked me questions about the area where we lived, the school district and what other things were nearby. Then they delved into what extracurricular activities the other boys were into and how Nick would fit in.

I told them a great deal about the boys. I was quite frank and explained such details as who was on the honor roll, who had difficulty in school and a little about what the boys were like in general. When we finished, Mrs. Lawrence excused herself and went out to the kitchen to make some sandwiches and a fresh pot of coffee. While she was busy with this, Mr. Lawrence called Nick to join us. He didn’t race down this time, and looked a little upset that our discussion had taken so long, but he didn’t make any comments about it. I was pleased he made the effort. Now that we were all together, he escorted me into their dining room.

Nick sat down across from me as we ate lunch, but waited until we had all finished eating, before he asked his parents a question. “Well, can I go to school there?”

“Nicky, we haven’t decided yet, but we will,” his father told him. “It might also take a visit to see what it’s like, before I make up my mind.”

“Why, you can see that Mr. Currie’s a nice guy and his sons are nice too,” Nicky challenged.

“Nick,” I told him, “they just want to make sure about where you’ll be living and the school you’ll be attending. They want to know exactly what they’re agreeing to, before they make any commitments.”

“I suppose, but I really want to do this,” he added, making his feelings known, although I suspected he’d already done that numerous times before I arrived.

“We understand that, honey,” his mother said reassuringly, “but Mr. Currie is right. We need to check everything out first. We wouldn’t send you anywhere without knowing all about where you’d be, who you’d be with and what you’d be doing.”

“Nicky, we’re not trying to control you, just protect you,” his father added. “Whether you believe us or not, your mother and I do love you and only want what’s best for you.”

Nick looked at his parents before he responded to that comment, but eventually he did. “I guess I might not have believed that before,” Nick told them quite frankly, “but I do now. I know you wouldn’t have even considered this, unless you did love me.”

“I might be wrong,” his father commented at that point, “but I do think my boy is growing up. That was a very mature observation. If that increased maturity is due to your time with the Curries, then this might be an easier decision than I first thought.”

After saying that, Mr. Lawrence reached over and tousled Nick’s hair, which caused Nick to stand up and move closer to his dad, so he could give him a big hug. Then I overheard him whisper in his father’s ear, “I do love you too, Dad.”

Then he walked around the table to his mother and did the same thing. Both of his parents fought back tears, while I observed the pride and love reflected in their eyes.

After this little discussion, Nick offered to leave us alone again, so we could talk some more. His parents just looked at each other and thanked him, before he went back up to his room. When they heard the door to his room shut, his mother looked at me and spoke.

“Are you sure you sent back OUR child?” she asked. “That’s not the same young man who used to argue with us constantly and then ran away.”

“Yes,” his father agreed, “the Nicky I remember was belligerent and unyielding. He would never have given in like that.”

“All I can tell you,” I responded, “is that he’s the same boy we found on our vacation. I learned he can be tough and put up a good front, but I know he’s not really as hard as he tries to appear.”

“So I see,” his father answered me, “and I assume some of that was because of your influence. He seems very fond of you. I’ve never seen him hug another adult before, so you must be very special.”

“Not really,” I answered. “I just found him at a low point in his life, after he discovered others had it even worse than he did. My boys and I are very hands-on and affectionate with each other and Nick seemed to enjoy that type of closeness with us too. I just think he’s transferring those traits to his home life now.”

“I’m not sure I understand how he changed so quickly, but I do think it’s wonderful,” his mother said, with a wide smile. His father merely nodded in agreement.

I went on and told them how we found Nick and how we helped the family of the boy Nick had met and became friends with. Some of the things seemed to bother Mr. Lawrence, yet some of the other things seemed to make him proud. He listened to the whole story, but it was a couple of minutes before he said anything.

“I guess I haven’t been totally objective about Nicky and possibly even a little too rough on him. I guess I let his being gay bother me so much that I never saw what a warm, affectionate and caring person he really was. Maybe our problems with him were more my fault than his. I’m not sure I’d have realized that without your help though.”

“Yes,” Mrs. Lawrence added, “thank you for bringing our son back to us.”

“I didn’t do anything and I’m sure you would have discovered these things eventually,” I added, trying to alleviate a little of the guilt they were feeling now. After all, they had just come to some important realizations too, and I didn’t want anything negating that.

“Maybe, but how long would it have taken us?” his father wondered aloud. “No, you helped bring about a change in him and an awareness in us. We do owe you for that.”

“Possibly, but I doubt it,” I countered. “I believe your time apart actually gave you an opportunity to reevaluate things and look at them from a different perspective. I believe this would have happened with or without me, if given the time.”

“You may be right, but I doubt it, mostly because I know how stubborn both Nicky and I can be,” his father admitted. “Seeing this miraculous change in him, I’m very tempted to go along with the rest of your suggestions too. What if we fly out to your place this weekend, with Nicky, to check the situation out? We’ll bring enough of his things to tide him over, so if we do decide to let him stay, he’ll be ready. We would ship his other things to you, as soon as we returned. Would that meet with your approval?”

“Of course. That would be fine,” I agreed.

“Fantastic! Then let’s have Nicky join us,” his mother suggested. “That way, we can tell him what’s going on.”

“Good idea,” his father concurred.

His mother went upstairs, knocked on his door and soon returned with her son. It didn’t take them long to fill Nick in about what they had planned, which rocketed Nicky into an exuberant celebration. He began hugging and kissing both of his parents and then came over and hugged me too. Now we had the rest of the time to just get to know each other better, so the Lawrences agreed to show me around Oklahoma City and give me the royal treatment.